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'A ticking time bomb': Explosive plays aplenty for Michigan in opener

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Sometimes what sounds like coach-speak is really just real speak. During the many months of this offseason, Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis expressed the need for the offense, in the second year under his direction, to be more explosive.

Speed in space, after all. Get it? That’s what he tweeted and preached when he first got the job early in 2019, and that's what his offense is about. For much of the first half last season, it was speed in mud. The Michigan offense was often barely capable of running his game plan because of turnovers, long down-and-distance situations and playing from deficits.

It’s one game, of course, but it was a head-turning 49-24 primetime victory on Saturday at Minnesota while debuting a new starting quarterback in Joe Milton, a new offensive line with the exception of Jalen Mayfield at right tackle, a receiver corps without Nico Collins and a strong group of running backs.

Gattis spoke freely and often during the offseason about the need for home-run plays and explosive bursts of offense, and that was on display at Minnesota.

“We always think we can run, pass, do everything,” said running back Hassan Haskins, who had two touchdowns and a 66-yard run. “Our game plan going in was make big plays. We’ve got playmakers, we’ve just got to make big plays.”

Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet (24) breaks away from Minnesota defensive back Benjamin St-Juste (25) for a 70-yard touchdown run on Saturday.

Running back Zach Charbonnet also had one of those home-run plays with a 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that tied the game at 7.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had been confident this offseason, pleased that his team never took a practice off after the Big Ten postponed the season on Aug. 11 before reinstating it last month. While the Wolverines didn’t look rust-free at the start of the game, they settled down and found a rhythm on offense as Milton spread the ball around, with nine players catching a pass. Ronnie Bell, the returning leading receiver, had the big reception of the game with a 35-yarder.

“I really trusted our team,” Harbaugh said. “I believe in them that way and every way. That’s the way I visualized this game going, and I trusted Joe to do it and he did it.”

Haskins said there are so many playmakers, “you can’t just go with one.” And the extra time without football was put to use drilling and drilling in practices.

“We’ve had a lot more game planning, going over plays and having more confidence,” Haskins said. “This season is a little different and we’re going to get that extra push and explosive runs.”

The explosive plays were not exclusive to the offense. Michael Barrett forced a turnover that Donovan Jeter snagged in the air and scored on a 15-yard fumble return. Barrett also had a 66-yard kickoff return.

“It feels like a dream, something I’ve been waiting on, something going through my head for a long time for an opportunity to go out and make those big plays,” said Barrett, the team's starting viper. “To be able to go out there and do it with my teammates feels unexplainable.”

While the talk has mostly centered around the offense after the opener, Barrett made clear the explosive plays can come from anywhere.

“I feel like our team is a ticking time bomb,” Barrett said. “You never know whenever a big play can happen, whether that's offensively and defensively. We have a lot of guys that have that ‘it’ factor, that can make a play whenever, especially in crunch time. I feel like as a team, as a whole, we have a lot of weapons and excited to use them.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis